With it warming up to inferno type temps here in North Florida I’ve taken a bit of time off from brewing. I’m still actually brewing, but I’m just choosing my beers wisely to stay out of the heat. I’m also concentrating on brewing related items that keep me inside the house. Mostly configuring some hardware to make brewing a bit easier when I do make a batch. The biggest, and probably most expensive, hardware related prep is my glycol chiller.

I’m still just in the initial planning phases for this, but I feel that I’m on the right track. There are tons of decent articles out there on how to do this so I’ll let you find one that meets your needs. All of them are pretty much centered around using the cooling fins of a window air conditioning unit to cool a glycol bath in a standard picnic cooler acting as the reservoir. Until I can find enough disposable income to drop 5 large on a real glycol unit, this will fit what I need perfectly.

Another planning item I like to do when I don’t want to brave the heat is to look ahead at what I’ll be making. I’ve got lists so long that most of the beers won’t be made in my lifetime, but I still like to sit around and dream up a new beer. With this dreaming is the thoughts of going for the gold. Entering competitions. I’ve not been one to make beer so that I can send it out to people that I don’t get to see enjoy it, but I would like to get more into competitions.

This will go hand in hand with my planning. I am going to attempt to make up a calendar of competitions, plan the beers around them, and enter as many as I can afford. There are a ton of competitions out there and AHA has a very exhaustive list of them. Go here and you can search by state and date/range or either one. I wish they would go out a bit further though. They probably do, but I’ll have to drill down to find it.

I don’t want to really enter them to win. Though that would be a nice bonus. I really want to enter them to get feedback on my beers. We can be our own worst critics. I find that I always pick my beers apart and find anything wrong with them. Others tell me that I’m being too picky. I would like to get some honest feedback from an uninterested party. And this is where competitions come in.

I did enter the NHC this past year for this exact reason. It did sneak up on me pretty quickly though and I didn’t plan my brews as well as I should have. Of course the beers were in better condition a few weeks after the first round ended than the ones I sent in. The feedback I received was less than stellar. Not that there were tons of negative comments. Just that there were a very real lack of comments in general. The feedback was what I entered for and it seemed like it was a waste of time because I failed to get it.

The scores I got were not bad. I was in the 30+ range. Which for lack of planning and hurrying my entries I felt were spot on. Some of the few comments I actually did receive made me wonder if they had actually received the beer I sent, or mixed them up with someone else though. But that could just be my knowing the beers I sent better than they did. Or the flaws they pointed out somehow showed themselves because they were now in bottles vice the kegs I serve them from.

With all the negative stuff I just said, I still find competitions offer some feedback. When you find the right one. And one would think the NHC would be that one. I guess my judging center was just bad? Lesson learned; don’t send to Austin Homebrew again. Especially since they feel the need to not have their actual BJCP judges, if they have enough, sit in on first round judging. I got a couple provisional judges, a couple actual judges, and an “experienced homebrewer” as my cadre of quaffers. Again, less than stellar.

So all of that talk just to get around to one particular competition: 2015 BrewUnited Challenge. Not your average homebrew challenge. A decent amount of judged styles are afforded, 15 in all. But there is a twist on the ingredients. You have to use all of the malts listed in each style of beer you will enter. The malts are Pils, Munich, Crystal/Caramel 60, and flaked wheat. And at least 1% of those. To that wort made from those four malts you must add two of the following hops; Northern Brewer, Centennial, Challenger, Northdown, Perle, or Saaz. The only thing you have total control over is the yeast.

My plan is to make a California Common (somehow Fritz trademarked the word Steam?!?), an American IPA, and an Imperial IPA. I feel these will fit with the malts quite well. The hops might be challenging for the IPAs but I think I can brew something passable. I don’t really want to use any crystal, but 1% won’t really kill me. And Munich might be a challenge as well.

I have a couple months left to start planning these out. This should give me plenty of time to brew up a couple batches to dial in what I’ll be sending. This heat will definitely make it a challenge. Might be time to buy a huge industrial sized fan for the garage. Or brew evenings. Time to get to brewing I guess. And I hope the feedback is worth the work this time.